Am I Thinking of Others?

We have an obsession with individual choice in our culture. We want our individual rights. Now, it is not wrong to want to preserve rights—we in fact must commit ourselves to righting wrongs and seeking justice–, but I have noticed that a self-oriented focus on “rights” often comes at the cost of the broader community when people, simmering in frustration, cease to love and serve well. We can think, ‘if I do something for the good of the community, but other people don’t, then I will be at a disadvantage…’ We can talk ourselves into stagnation, wondering if choosing to sacrifice and serve is worth the cost to my comfort, my self-sufficiency, my power? Yet I would submit that there is real and personal long-term cost in not thinking about the broader community too!

Those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus should be the first to value the “we.” It is a critical part of Biblical teaching that we are to think of “one another” and are to count the needs of others above our own needs. We are called to care for the poor, to pursue justice, and even to love those we see as enemies. We are to display Christlike qualities of compassion, love, and grace—seeing people as made in the image of God.  We are to do this, not out of our own strength (we cannot live up to this standard on our own!), but because God has poured out his love and undeserved favor on us. He accepts us as His children even as we were still (and are still) broken and messy and sinful. We love, because he first loved us. (I Jn. 4:19).

So…why don’t we see this others-centeredness—this servant-heartedness that should characterize those who claim Jesus—in a lot of “cultural Christianity” in the United States right now? It saddens me to see anger and self-justification instead. It undermines the trust of so many young people to see the church proclaiming Jesus, but then modeling bitterness, and vitriol and “what-about-me” thinking.

We cannot escape the tension in culture right now. There is a tension of ideologies because strong beliefs that are in many ways incompatible are vying for power in our political, social, and economic spheres. I am not saying we should ignore the tension, nor should we pretend it doesn’t matter what people believe. In fact, dominant ideologies deeply affect our communities and the coming future generations. They form the foundation for policies (social, economic, environmental), governmental structures (e.g., constitutional interpretation), education, and more.  Yet, even if that is true, I don’t think we need to act like the world is ending if “our” (whichever ‘our’ you choose to align with—whether conservative, progressive, or something in between) perspective is not effectively winning in the power struggle over “X” issue.  I believe we can have love and respect for people who think differently; I believe God is God, no matter what direction the culture goes; and I firmly believe that a posture of humility is what is most deeply needed in order to transform our culture.

Walking in humility means I seek to understand, listen, and care for people I don’t agree with. It means I believe both that I might be wrong in at least some of what I am thinking, and that I can learn a lot from those I disagree with. I can love people who are radically different from me without fear of losing my identity, because my identity is not in winning; it is in Jesus. Because I know that God will ultimately reign forever as the only truly good, loving, just and compassionate king, I don’t have to fear “losing.”

Our Cru group here in Davis has the tagline that we are “A caring multicultural community helping people follow Jesus.” We want to be known as people who care, and who believe that we have much to learn from one another.  Yet our firm foundation is in Jesus and the Word of God because that is where we passionately believe that peace and life and hope are found—nowhere else.

It does not minimize the strength of my faith or convictions to listen to people who disagree with them. In fact, I can even advocate for the rights of people who disagree with me—for their right to have a voice! As an attorney who works in the area of Free Speech and Religious Freedom, I believe it is best to advocate for the rights of people of all faiths. I believe our diverse communities will be better if every religious community is able to teach and practice the tenets of their faith (of course within appropriate boundaries, such as preventing criminal activity and abuse).

Some will ask: am I in danger of “compromising” when I listen and seek to understand those with views I disagree with? No! I am in much more danger of losing myself and the message of grace and hope that is at the center of the truth claims of my faith when I allow bitterness or arrogance to poison me. “Learn and Grow” is a family phrase we use to represent the attitude and humility we want to have as we approach this journey of life.  We absolutely want to do the work of grounding ourselves in truth (and God’s Word is where I want our family to be rooted), but we also know that learning and growing in our faith tradition is about much more than knowing things. It is about living in a Christlike way–walking in grace, truth, and humility.

Struggling in “Achievementland”

Lets start with the admission, like at the beginning of an alcoholics anonymous meeting. Here it is: I am a struggling parent living in Achievementland (a.k.a. Davis). “Tell me more” you say.  Well, I thought last year was hard…I thought it could only get better. But this year is hard too! I am not saying this year is all bad, nor was last year. I know I am blessed – I have a close-knit family. My kids feel loved, they love spending time together, and I love spending time with them. We got used to a lot of together time last year. It is the externals coming in and throwing a wrench in it right now. Activities are hard. We now have 5 kids with activities, and…it is a lot. But that isn’t really what I am struggling with…

School. It feels like it has changed. Covid ruined it! [Mini rant]. Hopefully not permanently [effort at optimism…].

OK, maybe Davis ruined it before that, at least at the high school level where there is so much crazy pressure…I am new to it and, wow….  Are any other parents wondering how we ever got straight A’s?

But I also feel like Covid has affected how school is done for elementary school aged kids. It feels like stratification in the class is more evident than ever. Some kids openly talk about how advanced they are, making the kids who aren’t feel worse. So much is still on computers: sitting in the class, yes, but doing many assignments on the computer… (i-Ready’s personalized programming sounds good, but I am concerned about a lot of math being done on a computer and I don’t want my child to feel like she is behind other kids because she doesn’t “get through it” as fast). My child, who I protected from it all by homeschooling last year (focusing on normal things like “math on paper worksheets” and “writing in a journal with a pencil”), goes through emotional ups and downs, often feeling behind because she isn’t as tech-savvy, and can’t navigate all the tabs and assignments as quickly as the other kids. While we did do some typing last year, she can’t type fast. I feel like I didn’t prepare her well enough, even though I helped her gain confidence in reading and math, and improved her ability to write (she even learned cursive!).  My heart is weary, and I hate seeing my children experiencing stress! I love and respect teachers and know they are working hard (all my kids have some excellent teachers), and I know teachers are facing so many pressures and expectations that they neither chose nor designed… Yet I am concerned about school remaining screen-driven. It will change the pace, the feeling of calm, and will increase the comparison if we aren’t careful…

I am experiencing stress partly because I don’t feel like I have the bandwidth, with my job and many things I am juggling, to keep track of everything my children are doing in school. I am also struggling with the fact that I can’t fix it—I can’t homeschool right now because of my job responsibilities; I can’t make the stress go away!  I can say I love my children and that I am for them—and I am saying that every day—but I am a little concerned about how to just “get used to this” feeling of school pressure and stress for the next 12+ years that I will still have at least one child in Davis schools.

Lord, I need you! I know you are bigger than all of this [turning to prayer, which for me is not just a desperation thing, but a daily life thing…].

I want to help my children know that their value is not in their “output,” but in the fact that they are precious children, created by and loved by a compassionate, personal, caring God. I want them to learn to work diligently and hard, but to rest in the unconditional love that their parents have for them—even though we live it out imperfectly—so that they can be confident that someone is always “for” them. Health (physical, spiritual, emotional) is more important than grades, and positive relationships and play time are critical for health.  Yet it feels like swimming against the current to live with such priorities because they aren’t “resume builders.” 

I must remind myself and my children that the LORD’s way is different, and good. Psalm 18:27-28 say “For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down. For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.”

The result of creative play time